Simulated Effects of Pumping in the Death Valley Regional Groundwater Flow System, Nevada and California—Selected Management Scenarios Projected to 2120

Scientific Investigations Report 2020-5103
Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management; National Park Service; Nevada Division of Wildlife; Nye County, Nevada; and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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  • Document: Report (6.4 MB pdf)
  • Data Releases:
    • USGS data release — MODFLOW-2005 models used to simulate effects of pumping in the Death Valley Regional Groundwater Flow System, Nevada and California—Selected management scenarios projected to 2120
    • USGS data release — Update to the groundwater withdrawals database for the Death Valley regional groundwater flow system, Nevada and California, 1913 -2010
    • USGS data release — MODFLOW-2005 model and supplementary data used to characterize groundwater flow and effects of pumping in the Death Valley regional groundwater flow system, Nevada and California, with special reference to Devils Hole
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Abstract

Declining water levels and reduced natural discharge at springs, seeps, and phreatophyte areas primarily are the result of decades of groundwater development in the Death Valley regional flow system, in Nevada and California. A calibrated groundwater-flow model was used to simulate potential future effects of groundwater pumping on water levels and natural groundwater discharge in the study area. Effects of climate change on future groundwater pumping were not considered and were beyond the scope of the study. Four groundwater-pumping scenarios were developed by stakeholders to predict and compare (1) the extent of regional water-level declines; (2) drawdown at Devils Hole; and (3) reductions in natural discharge at select discharge areas, including the Amargosa Wild and Scenic River, the Ash Meadows discharge area, the Furnace Creek area, and Stump Spring. Scenarios were simulated from 1913 to 2120, with historical pumping occurring from 1913 to 2010, historical 2010 pumping rates projected from 2010 to 2020, and scenario pumping beginning in 2020. Pumping scenarios included a base case and scenarios A, B, and C. The base case projected 2010 pumping rates from 2010 to 2120, and scenarios A, B, and C projected base case pumping plus additional pumping at various locations from 2020 to 2120. By 2020, historical (1913–2020) pumping resulted in the propagation of simulated drawdown of 1 foot (ft) or more westward from Pahrump Valley to areas north of Shoshone in the Pahrump to Death Valley South (PDVS) groundwater basin and the merging of simulated 1-ft drawdown contours between the Alkali Flat–Furnace Creek Ranch (AFFCR) and Ash Meadows groundwater basins. In the base case scenario, extent and magnitude of simulated drawdown continued to increase in the Ash Meadows and AFFCR groundwater basins from 2020 to 2120. In the base case, the magnitude of simulated drawdown continued to increase in western Pahrump Valley from 2020 to 2120, whereas simulated water levels rose in eastern Pahrump Valley from 2020 to 2070 and then stabilized from 2070 to 2120. Scenarios A and B primarily affected the PDVS and AFFCR groundwater basins by increasing the magnitude of drawdown in 2120, compared to the base case. In scenario C, drawdown propagated throughout a high-transmissivity part of the carbonate aquifer known as the megachannel, greatly affecting water levels in the Ash Meadows discharge area. Scenario C resulted in an additional 10–100 ft of drawdown (compared to the base case) throughout the southeastern part of the Ash Meadows groundwater basin by 2120. Simulated drawdowns in Devils Hole in 2120 were 3.2, 3.4, 3.8, and 25.4 ft for the base case and scenarios A, B, and C, respectively. The federally mandated minimum water level for Devils Hole is 2.7 ft below a reference point. In 2020, the simulated water level in Devils Hole was above the minimum water level, at 1.7 ft below the reference. Simulated water levels in Devils Hole fell below the federally mandated water level by 2078, 2073, 2058, and 2025 for the base case and scenarios A, B, and C, respectively, assuming a hypothetical recharge scenario of constant natural recharge. Simulated reductions in predevelopment (natural) discharge at select discharge areas ranged from 3 to 38 percent by 2120 for all scenarios. Amargosa Wild and Scenic River was the least affected discharge area with simulated capture rates ranging from 3 to 4 percent of predevelopment discharge by 2120. Ash Meadows discharge area was greatly affected by groundwater pumping in scenario C with a simulated capture rate of 38 percent, compared to simulated capture rates of 8, 8, and 9 percent for the base case, scenario A, and scenario B, respectively, in 2120. Simulated capture rates in the Furnace Creek area ranged from 10 to 11 percent for all scenarios in 2120. Simulated capture rates at Stump Spring ranged from 32 to 36 percent for all scenarios in 2120.

Suggested Citation

Nelson, N.C., and Jackson, T.R., 2020, Simulated effects of pumping in the Death Valley Regional Groundwater Flow System, Nevada and California—Selected management scenarios projected to 2120: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2020–5103, 30 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20205103.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Simulated Effects of Future Groundwater Pumping
  • Summary
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Simulated effects of pumping in the Death Valley Regional Groundwater Flow System, Nevada and California—Selected management scenarios projected to 2120
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2020-5103
DOI 10.3133/sir20205103
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Nevada Water Science Center
Description Report: vii, 30 p.; Data Releases
Country United States
State California, Nevada
Other Geospatial Death Valley Regional Groundwater Flow System
Online Only (Y/N) Y
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